Changing God’s Mind: One Law at a Time! Word #38

WORD: A Word a Week from the World’s Best Seller. Follow the Annual Torah Re-Run Series with Amichai Lau-Lavie’s Newest Year-Long Blog. To subscribe via email click here. To listen to the audio version click here.






The turning of tides started, this week, with Wendy Davis.
Davis rose in defiance of the Bible bashing law makers for 13 hours  and helped make history -not just in Texas,  not just for women, and not just for all who believe that abortions are a right, not a sin, but for all of us who care about progress and equality.
Barely had time to digest that when the best news came from DC on Doma and Prop 8.
Edie Windsor, Wendy Davis and so many more stand tall this week, and along with them are  five heroines right from the pages of the Bible, whose story is repeated this week in memory of judgment reversed and human rights dignified and celebrated. When it’s time for justice – sometimes even God is wrong, and the law changes.
There is a famous story in the Talmud about a legal dispute. Two camps take sides, and one of them, led by the solitary Rabbi Eliezer claims to speak for God, even creating magical proof. But the other camp wins. And God, say the rabbis, laughs and says: You won, kids, you won!
Michelle Bachman clearly doesn’t think so, (and to quote Nancy Pelosi – who cares?) but this week, laws of the land, touted by many as God’s words were reversed, in a stunning admission that things can and do change: even God’s mind, as recorded in our laws, beliefs and values.
What has been challenged this week is patriarchy itself – the notion of who is in God’s image, who counts, and what’s sacred. In all legal matters this week, the old word, the old guard got a taste of major change, and God, if one may feel so, laughs within and watches the old structures crumble, and something new emerging slowly to the top.
Even in Israel one could smell the patriarchal old school shake somewhat: The Chief Rabbi Metzger arrested for financial misconduct and sexual advances at men. To quote most Israelis – so what? – Along with compassion for a man clearly trapped in his hidden sexuality and the men who were his victims – and with hopes of healing for all – there’s the recognition here that this old structure – chief men rabbis in black speaking for God and alienating most of us – is in disgrace – is losing its grace and standing.  It will take time – but it’s about time.
And then there’s the five sisters, named, victorious, in an ancient court of law:
Mahla, Tirtza, Noa, Hogla and Milka, orphaned sisters, descended from Joseph, are getting ready to enter the Promised Land. But as single women they realize that they have no plot, no promised land of their own: that right is reserved for men and their male heirs. They go to Moses, all five, challenge him, he goes to God for judgement, and God rules, quite plainly – they are right, and I was wrong.  You won, kids, you won.
The law changes. Women, as well as men, are now able to get plots in the new land that awaits beyond the river. A biblical Feminist precedent, no less.
(never mind that the verdict will be challenged a few weeks from now and the five sisters will be told to marry their cousins so that the territory stays in the family. For now, lets linger on the triumph.)
Standing up for women’s rights to control their body and block the law that prevents abortions 20 weeks and up, law makers, activists and protesters stood up to power in much the same way, pushed beyond midnight and got it done. Here, too, some next steps may interfere, but for now, lets focus on the courage and the wisdom in fighting for what’s right – and within the system.
DOMA’s demise, ten years in the making, honors the rights of so many of us to love as we do and look God in the eye, as create in Divine image, not second class citizens in any way.
And God loves it. She really does.
And I do care that not everybody thinks so, and that for many June 26 will go down as a day of shame, but right now, for God’s sake – I just want to celebrate the day of pride,  the courage to change, the patience to listen, the humility of progress, and the dignity of disagreement – in the name of law and love.
Mazel Tov America!!! Happy Pride.
Shabbat Shalom.

Amichai Lau-Lavie is the Founder and Executive Director of Storahtelling, Inc. creating sustainable solutions for life-long Jewish Learning since 1999.

Cut to the Chase: Moses, James Bond, Drama in DC: Word 25

WORD: A Word a Week from the World’s Best Seller. Follow the Annual Torah Re-Run Series with Amichai Lau-Lavie’s Newest Year-Long Blog. To subscribe via email click here. To listen to the audio version click here.




On the evening before Seder my father and I watch Skyfall, the latest James Bond movie, on their home TV. He used to like action flicks, and with all the cooking going on in the kitchen it seemed like the perfect diversion.
I’ve not a big fan of gunblazing action but found myself riveted, towel in hand, matza balls waiting, sitting next to him and narrating some of what’s going on (‘no, that’s not the bad guy – he’s the good guy’) and tensing up with each and every chase scene. There are lots.  
“Did you like it?” I ask him later, he shrugs – it was OK. But later, when he’s getting ready to go upstairs he says to me: ‘good guys don’t always win.”

The next night we sit around the Seder table, intimate, just 8 of us, I get to lead, and skip around the hagada to focus on the key issues,  cut to the chase: What about this exodus story is important, meaningful, helpful to us today? Beyond the preservation of national legend, our master story – what here is useful to our personal soul journeys, our struggles with what holds us back and what helps us be more free?

Not everyone in my family is into the psychological rendering of passover, but they’re with me so far. Inspired by Skyfall I go to the chase scene, which is only alluded to in the classical hagada but is the one biblical quote I choose to read verbatim, trying to make the story as tense and anxiety provoking as the best of Bond:

“And the Egyptians chased them,  horses and chariots of Pharaoh, the army, and overtook them encamping by the sea..

The children of Israel looked up..and were terrified, and cried out to God, and yelled at Moses: There were not enough graves in Egypt?? We told you back in Egypt – leave us alone! It would have better for us to stay slaves in Egypt rather than die here in this wilderness.”(Ex. 14:9-12)It’s great text. Also chosen to be the Torah reading on the Sabbath of Passover. Much has been written on this first official Jewish National reaction to crisis: a sarcastic joke and terrified refusal of risk. What does this reaction tell us about our ancestors, about ourselves and our own choices?

What does it tell us about the fear that chases us on our fleeing from where we’re stuck to greater inner freedom.

“Imagine that you are in that chase scene,” I ask the Seder guests, well into our 2nd (really 4th) wine refill, “Who are you?  What’s your reaction? What will you do?”

We get into it: One of us will fight, two will hide, two will pray, three will run ahead into the sea.

The conversation drifted to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, the new government, Iran, Syria, religious extremism, digital overdose and global warming: what are our different reactions to crisis, to change, when danger is on us like a hostile army? As individuals, as nations? Are we like the ancient children of Israel sarcastic and fearful of the future or do we leap into the sea and risk it all for progress? Or somewhere in between?

Right from Seder (‘best ever’  tweeted by niece) into the supreme court drama in DC. It’s not exactly a chase scene but there’s bad guys and good guys, and whatever happens in these next weeks and months this is certainly another major milestone in the public liberation project of the American people.  here, too, the reactions to major change, to the call for ‘exodus’ are telling – the choice to stick to familiar narratives and fears or go for a more complex but equalizing reality, with more dignity for all. The Phraonic forces are chasing, and who knows, in this version of the saga, they may still get the good guys. Like my father said – good guy doesn’t always win.

The chase is on.

Here’s hoping, praying, trusting that the good guys win, that not many get hurt in the chase, that progress will overcome the tyranny of terror.

Not just for James Bond, or for Moses, in blockbusters of biblical proportions and sacred myths of old –   but also in courts of justice – i hope that our master stories  will hopefully guide us to a much more promised land.

Happy Passover, Shabbat Shalom


Amichai Lau-Lavie is the Founder and Executive Director of Storahtelling, Inc. creating sustainable solutions for life-long Jewish Learning since 1999.